Anti-abortion group fighting back after university senators say their opinions are 'hateful,' not 'equal'

'Senators have no right to vote against us simply because they disagree with our views.'

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Students for Life of America (SFLA) is seeking to obtain recognition from the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) after its student Supreme Court argued the anti-abortion advocacy group would create a hostile environment, and student senators described them as a harmful influence.

On Tuesday, the group sent an appeal to UNI's president, asking him to overturn the student government's decisions to block formal recognition. "Senators have no right to vote against us simply because they disagree with our views. Justices have no right to invoke irrelevant policies or to convict us of things that have not happened," read the appeal obtained by Fox News.

The issue emerged after Young America's Foundation (YAF), a conservativen nonprofit, posted footage from a Zoom meeting in which student senators likened SFLA to White supremacists and argued they were a hate group whose rhetoric was "infringing on basic human rights." One senator, Triet Ngo, added: “I would argue that not all opinions are equal, there are opinions and there are opinions that get people killed.”

The organization, which engages in charitable donations and educational outreach, has more than 1,250 groups stretching across all 50 states. That includes groups for middle school, high school, law school, and medical school programs, although the bulk are on college and university campuses.

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After the legislature blocked formal recognition of the SFLA chapter, the student supreme court upheld the ban, citing a policy intended to prevent harassment.

Despite the intensity opposition seen by student leaders, UNI's leadership seemed poised to side with SFLA. In a statement from Oct. 9, the university expressed concern that the student government violated students' First Amendment rights.

"The University of Northern Iowa is committed to protecting our students’ First Amendment rights and is concerned that recent actions by the student government violated UNI policy by rendering a decision that was not content-neutral. We have provided the petitioning student organization with resources and encouraged them to appeal the decision, which they did this afternoon ... UNI will not uphold a decision that violates the First Amendment and university policy," a statement from UNI read.

On Friday, UNI Public Relations Manager Steve Schmadeke told Fox News that the university supported students' right to appeal. "The University of Northern Iowa supports shared governance, as well as our students’ right to appeal. Once we receive the appeal, the university will conduct a thorough review and issue a final decision on the student group’s registration. The university will ensure compliance with our policies, and with state and federal law," he said.

"We encourage and welcome debate on our campus, and are committed to protecting the free speech rights of all of our students along with their right to assemble."

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Issued last week, the student supreme court's majority opinion said that SFLA's national leadership indicated it a UNI chapter would flout the university's values.

"[T]he national chapter for Students For Life does not uphold the morals/standards nor policies when it comes to equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice that are found here at the University of Northern Iowa," the majority opinion read. It added that allowing SFLA's chapter to operate would violate a university policy guaranteeing the "right to be treated with dignity and respect by all persons involved in the student conduct process."

"Allowing this organization that openly disregards the rights of women and other subsequent groups is not demonstrating nor upholding this policy," it read.

In footage obtained by YAF, student senator Max Tensen similalry described SFLA as a "hate group" whose "hateful rhetoric is infringing on basic human rights of health care."

Fox News asked Schmadeke whether UNI supported those characterizations. "In response to your question on student comments, the opinions expressed by student government leaders are theirs alone," he said.

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This wasn't the first time that an apparent conflict emerged between administration and other individuals expressing left-leaning opinions on campus.

YAF previously published an Iowa State University professor's syllabus, which threatened to dismiss students who opposed abortion or Black Lives Matter. In a statement to Fox News, the university described the syllabus as "inconsistent" with its commitment to the First Amendment. “The syllabus statement as written was inconsistent with the university’s standards and its commitment to the First Amendment rights of students," a statement from the taxpayer-funded university read.